Fewer non-COVID disease alerts were recorded at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in India.
This is according to information on weekly outbreaks available on the website of the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP), a Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare body. While initially this would be thought to be associated with the quarantine imposed in India, the most recent data from the IDSP is from March 16th to March 22nd, before the lockdown began.
The body usually reports weekly on disease cases. However, since the imposition of the lockdown, these reports have ceased. Such a lack of monitoring could draw inference that other diseases are being sidelined as more and more resources are being directed towards the monitoring and managing of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Officials have been quick to dispute this claim.
“There were fewer instances of people reporting diseases other than COVID-19 in hospitals. However, after May 3, there is again an increase in reports of other diseases but the latest data suggests that it hasn’t completely normalised as compared to previous years,” said Dr Sujeet Kumar Singh, director of the National Centre Disease Control (NCDC). Dr Singh denied the possibility that monitoring of other diseases was lower due to priorities being placed with COVID-19.
There were a total of six alerts across the March 16-22 period. These included a case of Crimean-Congo haemorraghic fever from Gujarat; three cases of chickenpox from Bihar; a case of dengue in Karnataka; and an outbreak of food poisoning in West Bengal. Health Issues India has reported previously on numerous other outbreaks such as that of cholera, typically in small, rural villages. In the same week last year, there were seventeen alerts: in 2018, there were 28. In 2017, there were 45.
Behavioural changes such as physical distancing and the use of masks, as well as limitations to public gathering even before the imposition of a full-blown quarantine, may account for the reduced case count. Disease outbreaks may have still been occurring, yet not to the same scale due to reduced social contact. It may also be possible that, as Dr Singh suggested, cases were simply not reported in hospitals.
India’s current situation with COVID-19 is dire. The daily death toll is steadily creeping higher, while daily new case counts have risen to around the 20,000 mark. In both cases the trajectory of the curve is definitively upwards, and so India can reasonably expect that the worst is yet to come.